We walked for a couple of minutes, and the pounding music faded to mere background tunes, gently complementing the fires that glowed softer with distance. We found a spot by the dunes near a large home that faced the water. The stretch of beach was probably private, considering the row of huge houses that sat among the tall grass, but I figured the owners would not care as long as we left Fergie and her musical crew farther down the beach.
Raef shook out the blanket and I helped smooth it wide, then sat down and slowly zipped off my boots so I could stick my toes in the cold sand. Raef sat down next to me and looked up at the stars.
He was right.
Away from the blaze of the fires, the stars were all the more brilliant. The massive moon continued to climb higher, causing the luminous pathway on the water to slowly stretch toward the horizon. I just smiled at the good fortune that granted me a chance to live here.
I glanced over at Raef and caught him looking at me. “Yes?” I asked, an odd combination of unease and desire flashing through my veins.
“I was just wondering what you were thinking about.”
“I was thinking how amazing this view is, and how unbelievable it is that I get to enjoy it because I live here,” I said, my nerves slowly calming. “It’s just incredible. I’m waiting to wake from this dream.”
I looked back at the stars and then leaned back onto the blanket so I could enjoy the broad view of space, “Perhaps I’m not really here. Maybe I’m in a coma somewhere and this is just my brain misfiring. I think that is more plausible, especially the way my luck normally runs.”
He leaned down next to me, propping himself on one elbow as he looked at me. “You are not in a coma.”
“Oh yeah? How do you know? Maybe you’re in a coma too. Maybe we had some tragic accident and now we’re both carrots in a hospital bed somewhere.”
He reached over to my arm and pinched me. I let out a yelp. “What the heck?”
“See? Not vegetables,” he said with a smile, then looked a bit more serious. “This is real. This is your life now.”
I looked at him, debating how to phrase what I was about to say, fearing his answer as well. “And your life? Is this your life as well, or is this temporary?”
He rolled over on his back to study the sky with me, “I think this is my life now as well. Kian and I are not planning on leaving anytime soon.”
I nearly sighed audibly in relief, but managed to control myself. We lay there, staring at the stars and watching the moonrise. Finally he spoke up, “You know, as a true native, you should know your constellations.”
I didn’t follow. “Why is that?”
“Well, Cape Cod is an ocean-going community. Your own grandparents were a big part of that as well. And, as such, knowing how to navigate by the heavens is part of being a native.”
“And I take it, as a brilliant boat-dweller, you know such things?”
“Heck yeah. Care to learn?”
“Go for it, but be forewarned – I am a slow study.”
“Then I guess it is a good thing we don’t have school tomorrow,” he laughed.
For the next hour, Raef explained the stars and the pictures they made in the sky. He told me about the stories of the gods they represented, and how to find your way based on the characters that rose in the universe nightly. I was pleased when I was able to find Sirius with his help.
“I am a true Cape Codder,” I said proudly, thanks to my limited, but accurate constellation identification. He was silent for a moment as he lay next to me and I turned to him.
He looked at me, eye to eye for a moment, then slowly sat up. “A true Cape Codder needs a badge of belonging,” he said as he looked back at me lying on the faded blanket. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a little velvet bag.
Intrigued, I sat up next to him and pulled my chilled feet under me. He reached out and took my hand, unfurling my fingers as he placed the soft bag in my palm.
“What’s this?” I asked, my heart pounding.
“A gift that says you belong to this area,” said Raef, watching me.
I swallowed and slowly untied the black string, tipping the bag upside down into my other hand. A beautiful silver bangle bracelet with a glistening ball in the center slid out into my hand. The ball had a thousand little facets cut into it, making it pulse with moonlight.
“It’s . . . beautiful,” I said, breathless and stunned.
He picked it up and untwisted the ball, causing the bracelet to spring open slightly. He took my other arm and slid the bracelet onto my wrist, then tightened the ball down again to link the hoop together. He turned it slightly so the ball faced the moon, twinkling.
“This is made here. Most locals have one and it’s distinctive to Cape Cod. I wanted you to have one, so that whenever you felt like you didn’t belong, you could look at it and remember that someone says differently.”
I sat there, turning my wrist slightly, watching it shine like the moonlit path on the water. I looked up at Raef, who was watching me with a serious look on his face that I found unsettling and impossible to read.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to understand what this gift from him meant. Was it just a gift of friendship, or something more?
I was about to ask where I stood with him, when the jovial voice of Jesse broke our silence.
“Well HELLO. What are you two doing way out here. In the dark. ALL ALONE,” asked Jesse, a huge smile on his face, directed at me. I may just murder him if he embarrassed me. All I could think of was the way he had watched me check out Raef our first day of school.
Raef got to his feet. He reached down and took my hand, pulling me to mine. “Ana has the music a bit too deafening for my taste,” said Raef with a brief smile.
“Plus we wanted to see the stars better,” I blurted out. Jesse gave me a look that screamed he didn’t believe I had been stargazing. As if to prove I wasn’t lying, I pointed skyward without looking up. “Cepheus. Right above us.”
“Sure,” said Jesse, the smile still on his face. He turned to Raef, “Since you’re out here, can you help me grab a few cases of beer from my house?”
Raef looked at me, as if seeking permission, and Jesse’s smile got even more irritatingly huge. “Go ahead. I’ll just hang out here and wait for you,” I said, sliding Jesse a look of death.
“You sure?” asked Raef.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding toward the house. Raef’s fingertips gently touched mine, but so surreptitiously that Jesse didn’t see. The sensation, so simple, gave me a rush of heat.
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